Heikki Kovalainen has been complaining about the in-season test ban rule that has taken effect this year. According to McLaren’s de facto number two, the lack of testing is the cause of McLaren’s shallow development curve this season.
As quoted by Reuters, Kovalainen said, “The testing ban is a big factor because teams like us and Ferrari would have been able to catch up quicker if we’d had more testing. Quite a lot of work had to be done in the factory, which is not always as accurate as when you go on the race track. We’re doing a lot of testing on Fridays, which is compromising our set-up work a little.”
Kovalainen compared this season to 2008, during which the top three three title contenders, McLaren, Ferrari and BMW, all pursued aggressive car developments through the final race of the year – at great expense.
Naturally, Kovalainen sees this from a driver’s perspective. In-season testing accelerates the development process, and drivers see improvements sooner rather than later. If developments take a wrong turn, the team can sort them out in a test session, prior to the next race.
The rationale behind the test ban, of course, was to curb spiraling development costs. Testing is a huge budget drain for most teams, and presumably they are enjoying a substantial savings as a result of the ban.
Without the ability to test, teams are now forced to gamble more on their upgrades, taking them straight from the virtual world of CAD stations and simulators to the real world of a race weekend. They use Friday as a test day, but if the upgrade is a mistake, the team has to live with it. As a precautionary measure, many teams introduce upgrades to one car at a time.
This has had a pronounced effect on starting grids and race results. Brawn began the year looking bulletproof. Now they’re struggling. Ross Brawn has indicated their decline in form is the result of a development path gone wrong. Likewise, at mid-season, Lewis Hamilton said that the McLaren chassis was an unmitigated disaster, and the team should focus on the 2010 model. Of course, that was before he won at Hungary.
Kovalainen acknowledged all of this, saying, “I think it’s the same with other teams which is why the season has been a bit silly, up and down.”
Silly or not, it has been an extremely interesting season. The past six races have seen six different winners. It’s been many years since we’ve seen that kind of variety. Let’s hope that Formula 1 continues to be “silly” in this vein.